Not one but two hot topics!
First Jeff thinking about Why PHP is easier to learn than Java.
Second this article: A Sign that PHP Could Soon be Owned by Sun. There’s some interesting ideas although I find the conclusion somewhat tabloid.
Yes companies like Sun and Oracle are interested in PHP, because it’s very popular, but only as something to add value to their existing products.
If you think about software in terms of the “domain” it’s written for (see Jeff’s thoughts here), these days I don’t think there’s any money to be made any more in the “foundation” or “architecture” domains (the Java and .NET libraries are free, for example). The playing field has changed (and for the better); you don’t need to pay for a library to access a db from your chosen platform these days, for example.
It’s simply cheaper, as IBM realised quite some time ago, to use (exploit?) Open Source than try to develop software for these domains in house.
If you’re Oracle, for example, and you want to hurry up the process of getting a bug fixed in the PHP Oracle extension perhaps you throw the guy who maintains it some cash for a short period but that’s it. If you then change the license so you can attach a price tag, you need to employ the guy full time – but customers are likely to be unwilling to pay when they can switch to another platform like Python or .NET and get that library for free. Better not hire the guy and leave the license Open.
Zend is good news for PHP, IMO, as it gives companies like Oracle someone to deal with (pay) to get stuff done that wouldn’t happen via normal Open Source development. PHP also benefits from Zend; full time staff able to keep core development rolling.
Otherwise what the author failed to discuss was something John picked up with Rasmus talking about Parrot for PHP6. If it even gets as far as PHP and Perl5 being unified on Parrot, the impact would be dramatic.